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Democratic Bigwigs Cash In on For-Profit College Lobbying Blitz

Published:  April 28, 2011

Earlier this week at Higher Ed Watch, we wrote about the extraordinary lengths for-profit college leaders and lobbyists are going to try and persuade Congressional Democrats to break with the Obama administration over its efforts to rein in the industry. In that post, we focused on how career college officials have been showering Democratic lawmakers with campaign dollars.

But that’s only part of the story. New data reveals that for-profit higher education companies and their representatives in Washington are spending far more lobbying Congress (and particularly Democratic Members) than they ever have before.

According to an analysis of lobbying records conducted by the Huffington Post, the industry spent a total of $8.1 million lobbying Congress in 2010, up from $3.3 million the year before. And on Wednesday, the publication Youth Today reported on its own analysis showing that the schools spent an additional $4.5 million on lobbying activities in the first three months of 2011.

Combining the data from the two publications, here are the biggest spenders over the last 15 months:

  • The Washington Post Co., which owns Kaplan University: $1.7 million
  • Career Education Corporation: $1.5 million
  • Corinthian Colleges: $1.5 million
  • Education Management Corporation (EDMC): $1.1 million
  • Apollo Group, which owns the University of Phoenix: $1 million
  • The Coalition for Educational Success, a lobbying group for the industry that EDMC helped create:  $810,000
  • The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, which was formerly known as the Career College Association: $657,000

It's no secret that a slew of former Democratic lawmakers and other party bigwigs are lobbying for the industry. Some of the biggest heavyweights are former House Majority Leader and Democratic presidential hopeful Richard Gephardt; legendary Democratic fundraiser Tony Podesta, whose brother John headed up President Obama’s transition team; Steve Elmendorf, who was “a major organizer for John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign,” according to the Huffington Post; and, of course, the former Clinton administration lawyer and “spinmeister par excellence” Lanny Davis.

As we’ve said before, with the stakes so high for many of these companies (particularly for those that have left their students heavily indebted and with little to show for it), it’s not surprising that they engaged in such an aggressive lobbying blitz. Having said that, it’s also important to understand that the bulk of the money they are lavishing on these lobbyists comes from U.S. taxpayers, in the form of federal financial aid. In other words, most of these companies are raking in huge sums from the federal student aid programs, and then turning around and spending a bunch of it on high-paid lobbyists, whose job it is to make sure this federal money continues to flow to even the worst of the worst of these schools.

It is also not surprising that they are targeting Democrats since they have been so successful in capturing the Republican Party. But the fact that so many big-name Democratic lobbyists are willing to do the industry’s bidding, despite the overwhelming evidence of abuses, shows just how powerfully money speaks in the nation’s capital. Once again, everybody wins, but students and taxpayers.

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